Message from Fr. Peter Andronache
On my recent vacation, I was reminded why I like driving through Missouri: the scenery is beautiful. Hills and valleys, rivers and lusciously-green trees make for beautiful views and enjoyable driving. As they say, your mileage may vary, and a husband's beautiful drive can be a wife's idea of what a stormy sea feels like. Joking aside, the drive reminded me that I too rarely take time to see beauty. “Beauty will save the world” is one of Dostoyevsky’s most famous quotes. For him, deeply steeped in the Orthodox tradition, beauty is ultimately a person: the One Who is the way, the truth,and the life. But creation being the work of His hands is made not only good, but beautiful. The Septuagint Old Testament, in using the word kalos to describe creation, makes this connection between the goodness and beauty of what God has made.
As someone with a mathematics and computer science background, I can appreciate the positive aspects of an engineering mindset. Yet, it is the poet that draws closest to God. St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia said, “Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet.” I believe that this requirement of St. Porphyrios’s is related to the poet being attuned to beauty and striving to find words that express that beauty. So, as much as I appreciate and have an affinity for the precise, I believe that what we need in the Church is poets. Yes, there will always be a need for the precise, for the books to balance, for the schedules to be done without conflict, and these things are good. But without God at the center of everything—which also means that beauty is to be found at the center of everything—all the precision in the world does not lead to salvation.
And so, we need poets. We need poets who see beauty and who can help those around them see beauty. But we also need beauty—simple, accessible beauty. One of the things I have always been amazed by is the beauty of the monasteries I visit. We were blessed to be able to visit two monasteries on our recent trip. They were small. Their chapels were but rooms in a house—no high ceilings, no dome. Yet, the space was beautified to the fullest extent possible—mainly through the use of icons which beautifully adorned the walls, but also the craftsmanship of the various items in the church (iconostasis, lecterns, etc.). Beyond the church itself, the grounds of the monasteries are a thing of beauty.
The older monastery has beautiful grounds, large rose bushes, rich trees in well maintained beds. The youngermonastery has only just begun to prepare the property,and, while we can only glimpse what things will look like in the future, the beauty of the place in its undeveloped state speaks for itself. Both monasteries are places of beauty and peace. It is no different from the monasteries I visited back in Romania. I could talk about the famous monasteries that are full of icons not only on the inside, but also on the outside. Or I could recall the skete up in the middle of the mountains, appearing suddenly as a clearing in the middle of the forest and the Liturgy for the feast day of the church that was held in the monastery courtyard. The examples of beauty in monasteries can go on and on. That the monastics, who have left everything to follow Christ, do not find beauty as something extraneous should be an inspiration to us, as well.
Ultimately, it is no accident that in monasteries the churches are beautiful, the buildings are beautiful, the gardens are beautiful, the grounds are beautiful. Forif it is the poet who is able to find beauty and describe it, it is also beauty that brings out the poet even in those who may seem to have little inclination towards it. And so it is that the Church holds beauty in high esteem—beauty of architecture, beauty of icons, beauty of worship, beauty of music.
We may not be monastics, perhaps we are not poets, but we can learn from the Church and we can try to surround ourselves with beauty in every place and at every hour. We can look for beauty in every placeand at every hour. And perhaps, by God’s grace, our souls will be touched by the beauty around us, and the eyes of the soul will catch a glimpse of that beauty which is true, the beauty of the One who Is.
With love in Christ,